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Panoramic space scenes. Ponderous themes. Rippling Hitchcock suspense. Ad Astra lures viewers with its refreshingly mature themes. And what seems the enormous sadness of actor Brad Pitt. This movie could also be named “The Star’s Hard Travel.”

Pitt plays 50-year-old Roy McBride, the son of a famous astronaut who explored the unexplored. Tommy Lee Jones plays the lost father, last stationed near Neptune with the Lima Project where destructive power surges are now emitted. Might the father, lost 16 years, be alive? Might he also be careening from a brilliant career into an unfettered craze?

Set in the future, things are changed—or more the same. For example, the Moon with its mineral resources is now a place of war—and malls. Pirates who drive lunar rovers attack anything that moves.

Like his father, Roy, also an astronaut, has isolated himself. Roy knows the power of his smile and how well he can use it as he passes co-workers, while he reminds himself to keep one eye on the exit. I found myself rooting for this sorrowful son who yearns with anger and love and a fine dignity just to know his dad. Any more would be a spoiler, but let’s just say that even outer space shrinks when a son wrestles with dad issues.

Liv Taylor plays Eve McBride, his estranged wife. We get pieces of their story through telecom conversations and flashes of memory. Donald Sutherland appears as Colonel Pruitt.

Director James Gray also co-wrote the script. His early movies like We Own the Night (2007) were crime thrillers while his more recent The Lost City of Z investigates an explorer’s heart. He has been friends with Pitt since 1995.

Pitt is a crystal. Prisms of emotion stream from him. The still face, the ticking muscle below the eye. In a New York Times interview, Pitt said, “I’ve got to be experiencing something that’s real to me for it to read real to you.”

I hate to think about what Pitt was experiencing. The Latin phrase, per aspera ad astra, gives us a story key: “through hardship to the stars.” (20th Century Fox)

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